A group of residents is suing Prince George’s County over redistricting plans that a divided council approved in November, resurrecting debate that has deepened divides among Democrats in this blue suburb.
Now, with election season underway, former county council member Eric Olson, who was removed from the district in which he was campaigning, is backing a lawsuit that asks the county to adopt the redistricting plan originally proposed by a nonpartisan committee, rather than the controversial one crafted by council members. Olson is not a named plaintiff in the lawsuit, which was filed Monday in Prince George’s County Circuit Court, but his campaign is paying for it.
“We must prevail to keep our communities together, and to allow my candidacy to continue for the District 3 seat,” Olson said in a message to his supporters Tuesday night about the lawsuit, noting that he had spent “many hours consulting with attorneys, redistricting experts, friends and family on how to best move forward.”
The lawsuit argues that the redistricting process was improper because it was done via a resolution, which does not require a signature from the county executive, rather than a bill. The first hearing is scheduled for Friday, said Matthew G. Sawyer, who is representing the plaintiffs.
Neither County Council Chair Calvin Hawkins (D-At Large) nor county council spokeswoman Karen Campbell responded to requests for comment. Gina Ford, spokeswoman for County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D), declined to comment.
Olson, who considers himself a political progressive, was sometimes at odds with the county’s political establishment while on the council, particularly on development-related issues. The other politicians who were drawn out of their districts — Krystal Oriadha in District 7 and Tamara Davis Brown in District 9 — have also at times been vocal critics of leaders in power. Their victories would have meant a shift in power on the council, where a group of moderate members often aligned with Alsobrooks currently have a majority.
Unlike redistricting battles at the state and national levels, the fight in Prince George’s — a county where about 85 percent of residents are Black and Latino — is being fought among Democrats, with a mostly younger, more liberal generation of leaders clashing with the county’s more moderate political establishment. In deep blue Prince George’s, the June primary tends to be decisive.
“They are just trying to stop change in any way possible,” said Oriadha, who moved from Seat Pleasant to Capitol Heights so she could still run in District 7, where she is running against incumbent council member Rodney Streeter (D).
“Both of us are pushing back on the system and what they tried to do, just in different ways,” Oriadha said, referring to Olson.
Brown, who is still considering whether to run for the council, said she also supports the lawsuit because “leaders should not be able to pick their voters.”
The map was adopted as part of the decennial redistricting process, in which the council ultimately decided between two maps. The first, largely noncontroversial map was presented by a nonpartisan redistricting commission and made small changes along the boundaries of council districts to account for population changes recorded in the 2020 Census. The second map, which was introduced by Derrick Leon Davis (D-District 6) and amended by Mel Franklin (D-At Large), made more sweeping changes.
Among them was dividing Lakeland, a historically Black community that the government pushed Black families out of in the 1970s in the name of urban renewal, into two council districts. Lakeland Civic Association’s Robert Thurston — who is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit — said that the redistricting effort felt like the latest example of government action being taken without input from the people affected.
He campaigned against the plan this fall with Olson, who has worked with residents in Lakeland over the years.
Council members who supported that map said it was important to put College Park in mostly one district and to make District 2 majority Latino to reflect the county’s growing share of Latino residents. They said the intent of the map was not to exclude particular candidates. In previous interviews and in the November public hearing, they said the proper rules and procedures had been followed.
But some acknowledged that it is an inherently political process.
“I am not acting like I am naive. I know this is a political process,” Hawkins, the council chair, previously told The Washington Post. “Everyone knew where everyone lived.”